Tuesday, March 8, 2011
by Bill Kirton
I’m on a train. Leaving Aberdeen to go to Glasgow and spend a weekend with my daughter and her two sons. ‘So what?’ you ask. Well, I’m just feeling lucky to live in such a place and have the sort of freedom that lets me do such things. Because the sun is shining, the North Sea is sparkling and swirling round the base of its cliffs to my left and on the right there are fields, great rolls of gorse in full bloom and, in the distance, the folds and peaks of the Cairngorm Mountains. And this is just the relatively tame bit of the country. I know that, if I turned right when I got to Glasgow and drove along the coast, each turn of the road would make me want to stop, get out, breathe the air and take a photograph which would never do it all justice.
I know there are beautiful areas in almost every country but, for me, the west coast of Scotland is a magical place. The mountains dive straight down into the sea lochs and their Gaelic names give them all a specific character. One of my favourites is An Teallach – the sleeping man. As you drive towards it, that’s what it looks like – some giant has decided to have a nap and has stretched out on his side. Nearby is Slioch. Many years ago, I canoed the length of Loch Maree, which lies beneath and along it. It took several hours and, whereas normally you feel your progress in relation to places on the shore, Slioch seemed to just stand there, not budging. I know, I know, mountains don’t budge. It’s not in their nature, but try spending some time amongst them and you feel there are presences there. It’s their place, not yours. As I’ve said before, I’m not a believer in anything religious or paranormal, but the Scottish Highlands don’t fall easily into rational definitions. Yes, they’re geographical things, but their silences, the ruined cottages you see here and there and some other indefinable sensations recall the people who lived here. It’s not a romantic fancy to feel that life lived here is qualitatively different from the noisy complicated way we pass our days now. In these mountains, we know that we’re small, absurd intruders, but we also know we’re part of something that stretches beyond our comprehension and suggests that somewhere, buried miles deep in our psyche, is the knowledge that we belong here.
Unfortunately, so do the midges. I don’t think it was a snake which drove Adam East of Eden, I think it was a midgie.